The New Power of Mobility

Bill Malloy, venture partner, Ignition Partners

Bill Malloy, venture partner, Ignition Partners

Bill Malloy has been there since the beginning: He started out in marketing for McCaw Cellular in 1985, helping the mobile industry pioneer launch the first mass-market product (the Go Phone) and the first nationwide mobile brand (Cellular One). After AT&T acquired McCaw, Malloy became a top exec there. He's a two-time Internet company CEO (Peapod and WorldStream Communications) and since 2002 has been at VC firm Ignition Partners, in Bellevue, Wash., guiding the next generation of mobile and Internet innovation. Malloy talks to us about patience, the vending machine of mobile apps and how mobile video changes everything.

The best customers for wireless always were small businesses. The small-business user has always been one of the first to figure out what's right for them.

Since I started in the mobile business more than 25 years ago, we have been in search of the one device that can do everything. My God, did it take a long time.

We're at the point where we've rendered the computer into a small device. You also have almost a vending-machine approach with applications. The result is a great, rich environment where the thresholds are so low for starting a new business.

I remember when I had a SkyPager and my cell phone, because the pager had better coverage and you got messages. Even when the BlackBerry came out, I still had a phone. But since I've had a smartphone, I'm not using other devices as much.

Because applications are starting to go independent of wireless carriers, you have more of a shopping mall environment.

All of the things that make a small business work are now at the device level with smartphones. You can get business apps, QuickBooks, your time sheets--all on mobile. The investment you had to make before in an office and Centrex service--you don't need to worry about today.

There are so many emerging things that were new years ago that we now can touch and feel. What I'm really interested in are the people who are creating businesses from the intersection of all those things.

Back in the day, we would sell a small business a $3,500 phone based on the idea that you could use it in a car. The idea that you could do something you couldn't do before was enough. That's where we are today with mobile video apps.

Mobile video will absolutely be a big area. The ability to see people on the call and items that you want to look at changes everything.

Adequate has more value than not being able to do it at all. And it will only get better.

Decadent Devices
The excitement around the iPad demonstrates that mobile-device users are ready for new form factors and larger screens built for a mobile video experience. As 2010 plays out, business users will see a number of new mobile devices, from smartphones to netbooks, that will help deliver on the promise of new mobile video apps while providing other new features of interest to business users.

Due out this summer, it will be the first phone made for Sprint's 4G network, the advent of which Sprint CEO Dan Hesse says will usher in an array of mobile video apps. The Evo's 4.3-inch screen will accommodate video apps that businesses will find useful, such as videoconferencing. It also has two cameras--an 8-megapixel camera for HD video and a 3.1-megapixel camera on the front screen to enable all those video calls. Plus, it can serve as a Wi-Fi hot spot for as many as eight other devices.

Dell Aero
The computer company started making smartphones for international markets last year, and it makes its U.S. debut this year with the Aero. The first Android smartphone for AT&T's network, it will one-up the iPhone by including Adobe Flash. Also notable: Wi-Fi connectivity and a custom user interface developed by Dell and AT&T.

Motorola i1
It's billed as the first Android smartphone with push-to-talk service--good news for field businesses on Nextel's network that have been waiting for a device that preserves traditional push-to-talk utility. Somehow simultaneously slim and rugged, it also has Wi-Fi and a screamin' speaker.

Palm Pre Plus
Another smartphone that doubles as a Wi-Fi hot spot, the Palm Pre Plus and related Pixi Plus also allow cordless inductive battery charging. The Pre Plus has double the memory of the original Pre--encouraging if you want to run multiple apps at the same time.

Dan O'Shea is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering telecom, mobile and other high-tech topics for nearly 20 years.

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This article was originally published in the June 2010 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The New Power of Mobility.

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